The American Dream -Part 2 – Quantitative Analysis

By: Heero Yuy

Repost from WallStreet Oasis. Enjoy!
For those who can read Chinese, check out this blog post.

For the English audience, check out these key references:
The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940

The Equality of Opportunity Project (source for the picture below)

The Fading American DreamMatt Kahn’s Blog post – Relative Income Disparity between Generations
Of course, one must not forget the gloomy sabermetrics folks over at Political Calculations with their analysis on the housing market and the median household income:

Housing Price vs Median Household Income

Food for thought.

Three Controversial Books on the Mind – Earth Shattering Discovery or Snakeoil?

By: Heero Yuy

Repost from WallStreet Oasis (WSO). Check it!

Facebook feed showed yet another plug from Harvard Business Review (HBR) on Carol Dweck’s concept of a growth mindset as it pertains to Microsoft’s adaptation. I quit reading the book when she cited Enron executives as a role models for creativity and ingenuity as I always thought the creative branch was over at Arthur Andersen.

Summary of Mindset: Everyone can whine about things, people succeed by believing they can and actually doing it.

Angela “Grit” Duckworth invents new vocabulary to go along with her new revelation that success comes from passion and perseverance in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Angela has been on TED talks and headline of articles such as this one from Forbes. Suggestions for her next buzzwords coined have been rest of the breakfast menu such as oat(s), egg(s), ham, and bacon.

Summary of Grit: Watch the movie Forrest Gump.

Last but not least, we have Malcolm “10K” Gladwell and his book Outliers. A Princeton study done back in 2014 on the meta-analysis of performance in different domains only found a 12% difference in performance based on practice in this article. Primary counter-argument for the 10,000-hour theory? It has to be deliberate practice and not just any practice that can allow a person to trend towards mastery as cited in the previous article and as well as this one on the National Post.

Summary of Outliers and ancillary books: Practice under a superb coach/teacher/mentor and actually know what the hell you are doing and love it at the same time. Hours are irrelevant.

Major Sales Pitch: You have to have the right growth mindset and grit to endure 10,000-hours of training to become a true Jedi Master. [Mindset->Grit->10K Race]

Let’s examine history. We’ve survived for thousands of years, tiptoed through disease and war, built World Wonders, innovated and engineered ourselves to the current modern life. Did we really haphazardly survive all this time without the above tools or perhaps we’ve been doing this the entire time under other terms? My people (Chinese) built a Big Wall to keep foreigners (Mongols) out, Egyptians built Pyramids, Europeans survived the Dark Ages and flourished through the Renaissance (thank you Assassin Creed, history class could never compare to the Animus), and now we got the internet and this wonderful place called WSO. In the first two examples of the Chinese and Egyptians came down to one simple concept; work or die. Surprisingly enough, from this is ‘new’ idea of work, the aforementioned items are two of the Seven World Wonders.

I’m not bullish on re-branded buzzwords. These books are good at explaining basic concepts to first time readers but the idea that we’ve somehow missed the train for tens of millennia is hard to swallow. It’s like the new twig calling the branch and the tree trunk fragile.

Do you believe these ideas are new?

Books referenced can be found on Amazon.com:
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Outliers: The Story of Success

The American Dream – Part 1 – Qualitative Analysis

By: Heero Yuy

This post is taken directly from my post on WallStreet Oasis discussing the fading of the American Dream.

Enjoy!

This is a very deep topic of discussion for me as I am a first generation immigrant and a Veteran (US Navy). I will share two view points and see what others think.

  1. The Dream as per my family and myself
  2. Evolution of The Dream as a function of time

1.a) The American Dream as per my parents

Abstract: Stable life so that their children may have a fighting chance to chase the American Dream as per their children.

Background: My mom could have taken more riskier routes, like studying for the USMLE to be become a board certified Physician (She wanted to be OBGYN), but instead she opted to build and grow her career from her PhD. She is pretty successful now working as a Director and was previous a full tenured Professor. My Dad had to pivot as his degree became worthless here in the USA so he opted to get a Masters in IT. He left a very well respected Government position in China to become a housekeeper at a Hotel to make ends meet for the family.

Growing up, I was teased for being slightly below middle-class because that’s what bored children do and understandably their feeble minds couldn’t understand my world peering over from their white picket fences living a silver-spooned lifestyle. Good friends stuck around, bad acquaintances got dropped and ended up as shitheads in real life anyways later in life; go figure, sometimes being spoiled spoils a person.

Even in the sport of academics, having the proper and adequate resources at the necessary times makes or breaks your relative rank or success vs. your competitors. As mentioned before, if we played trading places I would have leveraged the resources found in more fortunate households above and beyond the average child could have ever done with them. Why? I’d be busy working or helping others and not teasing the less fortunate. Idle hand’s are the devil’s workshop and my definition of fun differs from theirs.

Parent’s American Dream: They wanted to get to middle class baseline and provide for their children (me and sibling). Taking unnecessary risks that could hinder or deviate from this goal is unacceptable. 1st Gen Parents value stability above all else.

1.b) My American Dream
Abstract: Work in progress. Dream big, do cool things. Military paid well and allowed me to serve my Country and hone in on my leadership skills. This allows me to take bigger risks to break out of the typical Middle-class life.

Background: If my parents busted their ass to get to this country after surviving Communism and the Cultural Revolution and all I end up Middle-class, which is no further than they got, then shame on me for being a worthless human being. The forefather of my current organization said it best: “I would rather earn 1% off a 100 people’s efforts than 100% of my own efforts.” Calculated risks and applying leverage through leadership of an organization (Army of people or Fleet of Ships) is the only way to make it to the top.

My American Dream: Mentioned in the conclusion below.

2.a) Change of the American Dream through time
Change through Time: It wasn’t always so. My parents didn’t take risks but they imposed different end-game scenarios on myself and my sibling. As they grew and matured in their American journey, these end-game scenarios relaxed over-time and now have disappeared entirely. They now trust that the decisions we make is the best for us for the time being.

2.b) Motivations for this change
Why this occurs: Goals and visions are discovered through time with experience and self discovery. For instance, my concept of the American dream was first categorized as per job listings starting from Entry-level progressing to Senior positions, then it became a progression of pay from five to six figures (low to high six, etc), and now it has become absurd because I have more experience and knowledge and can leverage them to build teams and companies. I went from being a foot soldier to a leader and in my mind being a leader is where I belong.

Conclusion: I think it is wonderful to have a healthy debate about this topic and exchange ideas. Quite frankly nothing is right or wrong here as this is a game of perception where everyone can be right or wrong.

So long as you are true to yourself and add value to society in doing what you do then you are on the right path to success. For me, that’s the American Dream.

Don’t worry about journalists or historians telling your tales. No one ever had any fun while worrying about who’s looking over their shoulders! Enjoying myself and having fun are the only technical indicators I need for success.

Shapes of Stories – Applying Vonnegut’s Tool to an Ancient Story

By: Heero Yuy

shapes-of-stories

Once upon a time the Ketuvim (כְּתוּבִים‎‎) was written. In it contained three poetic books called Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. It also includes a collection of five scrolls (Megillot) that has the book of Ecclesiastes. The introduction to Ecclesiastes the author is introduced as “son of David, king in Jerusalem” or better known as Solomon.

This book is a very good candidate to analyze and discuss with Shape of Stories as used by Kurt Vonnegut. All of stories can be mapped on an axis such as the one below:

plot
All stories have a beginning and an end filled with a mixture of good and ill fortunes. Within each story there are sub stories that follows the same principle. This is how all stories are told since the beginning of time and some get creative by jumping around on the timeline to tell slices of the story in non-chronological order (i.e. Fight Club or better yet Pulp Fiction).

The story of Ecclesiastes is told from the perspective of a King who’s done it all and seen it all and can truly profess that “there is nothing new under the Sun.” Each pursuit begins with purpose, progresses to fruition, celebrated with delight upon triumph, and ends dismissive as a useless and meaningless journey. Each chapter is a mini story and each paragraph a sub-story that follows this story arc.

For instance, the story begins where everything is meaningless in a very bottom-line upfront approach in story telling. Next the author tells the audience that:

  • Wisdom
  • Pleasures
  • Wisdom and folly
  • Toil

There is an intermission where the element of time is introduced and different elements on the spectrum of human experience in opposing pairs such as:

  • Birth and death
  • Plant and uproot
  • Kill and heal
  • Tear down and build up
  • Weep and laugh
  • Mourn and dance
  • etc, etc
  • War and peace

Before resuming his negative stream of consciousness the author also gives a hint at the idea of infinity, eternity, and God. Along with these elements the author describes beauty, happiness, satisfaction, toil, and fear.

A continuous chorus of “everything is meaningless” is song constantly throughout the dialog to drive the point home to remind the reader of this “ill journey” on the shape of the story. The “ill journey” on this journey is eternal confusion and failing to comprehend eternity to be stuck in an infinite loop of questioning in a finite world without knowing how to migrate to the next level of infinity.

Before resuming to telling the next elements of meaninglessness the author runs through yet another mini-story explaining the meaninglessness of toil, dragging down the story towards “ill journey”, and then at the end offers a solution which is to journey in life with a battle buddy and never going it alone:

“Two are better than on, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

Journey resumes and the list of meaningless continues with:

  • Advancement (Keeping up with the Jones’) [Part 1]
    • No way any normal man can keep up with a King, and no way a life can have meaning if a King cannot find meaning in it… Right?

Another intermission to remind man of eternity and “fulfill[ing] your vow to God.”

Meaningless list drags on with:

  • Riches [Part 2]
    • Can’t take money to the grave!
    • Your clout doesn’t matter worth a damn in a finite life vs. infinity

Now the entire meaning of life, major elements of it, and the toils and pleasures are all essentially worthless the author turns over a new leaf to then bring meaning back into all forsaken elements one by one. This is powerful for two reasons:

  1. He got your attention by riding the story up and down the line of good and ill fortune
  2. All your current perceptions and prejudices against all known things in life are now wiped clean
    1. You are now a clean canvas
    2. The teacher can start his lesson anew to build one up again

Each brick of the foundation is thus laid as follows (rising up from ill fortune to good fortune):

  • Wisdom
    • “A person’s wisdom brightens their face and changes its hard appearance”
      • Metaphoric for internal self image and perception
  • Obey the King
    • Basic law and order
  • A common destiny for all
    • We all die (Sorry!)
  • Wisdom is better than folly
    • “Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.”
      • People chase paper credentials and social status more so than real life wisdom (Even back in the day!!!)
  • Invest in many Ventures
    • Talks about diversification to hedge against risk
    • Observe market conditions to know when to throw down and toil, when to restrain oneself
    • Concludes with step-by-step investment strategies and the mechanics of investing
  • Remember the Creator while young
    • A troubled heart and anxious mind confuses the young
    • Message is to ponder about the infinity and see how small your daily problems are in comparison

Author after mentoring the young closes his Sales pitch by saying the hard earned truth is the most concise guide to a no non-sense life without any addition or subtraction from the principles outlined. Studying too much and reading too far into other texts in search of the distilled wisdom is a pure waste of time.

Major arcs in the story consists of a beginning where it is “ill fortune” with mini-stories of ill and good fortune and the story progresses to “good fortune” until the conclusion where it remains neutral like the glass surface of a still lake on a calm day. Stories conclude like this for only one reason and that is to leave the choice up the reader to willfully live a different life or remain the same as before even after learning of this knowledge.

The lights fade, curtains drawn, stage empty, and either the audience applauds or walks out in silence.